Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Do

Have you ever noticed that people hate being told that they can't do something? Little kids know this all too well; they hear "no" from adults (particularly their parents). And I think that as we grow up, we often retain the knee jerk reaction of hearing "no" because it feels as if someone is infantalizing us or controlling us.

And if you add on irrational prejudices as the rationale for why we are told no, well I think very few of us would be able to keep our tempers. And yet, the truth is, so many people for such a long time in our nation's history have been told "No."

*Women were once told they couldn't vote.

*African Americans were once told where they had to sit using public transportation.

*American Indians were once told where they could live.

*People of different races were once told they could not marry.

If you have never known what it's like to be told "no" as an adult--just stop and think for a minute what it would be like to have something that seems so fundamental to everyone else--like the right to vote, the right to public transportation, the right to live where you choose, the right to marry--and imagine if someone said, "Sorry--everyone else can do these things, but based on this one part of who you are, we're barring you."

Which is why I'm calling attention, again, to how great and yet how ordinary California's recent decision to overturn the gay marriage ban is--how great and ordinary the recent weddings that are taking place all over California truly are.

Because the right to marry--the right to decide you want to join in matrimony, whether secular or sacred, with a person you want to spend the rest of your life with--this should be something that any consenting adult gets to do. It should not be remarkable--it should be ordinary. And the fact that it has taken the California Supreme Court to make this into an ordinary act for all people, gay or straight, is remarkable, because we have a social and cultural climate that does not seem queer friendly.

[This is Doreen Wong and Jennifer Pizer celebrating the California Supreme Court's May 2008 decision to overturn the gay marriage ban]

Yet let me quote from a New York Times article back in May that made comparisons between the Perez decision in 1948 (the decision to allow inter-racial marriage and overturn California's anti-miscegenation laws) and the recent decision in May 2008 to overturn the gay marriage ban:

“Perez was a really courageous decision,” said Andrew Koppelman, a law professor at Northwestern and the author of “Same Sex, Different States: When Same-Sex Marriages Cross State Lines” (Yale, 2006). “It was handed down at a time when it was just taken for granted that legally entrenched racism was not anything you could do anything about.”


Although I think almost everyone would agree (or almost everyone who reads this blog would agree) that entrenched racism is still a problem in the U.S. (and in many other places around the globe), I think we can also agree that "legally" there are recourses and resources to combat racism that just didn't exist in 1948, as well as a cultural atmosphere that would not support rampant, public racism and discrimination of the type that Perez vs. Sharp had to face.

There is an entrenched homophobia in this country. It cuts across race, religion, and region. And yet, the parallels to Civil Rights struggles around race in the 1950s and 60s seem very apt. And so I HOPE that one day, in the not too distant future, when I talk about social justice and civil rights, my students will think that it's utterly BIZARRE that there were ever laws preventing people of the same sex to marry. Because that's how they react when they hear about anti-miscegenation statutes today or when they get the full background behind the Supreme Court decision in Loving vs. Virginia.

In the meantime, we can at least celebrate the small victories--like Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin--the couple who were one of the first to get married back in February 2004. They were the first, and only, couple to be married by Mayor Gavin Newsom on Monday, June 16, 2008. Congratulations Phyllis & Del--you waited a long time for this ordinary right. I hope others don't have to wait nearly as long.


Babalon said...

I was enjoying the conjunction of the weddings in California (June 17) and Loving Day (June 12) all happening in the same week.

You're right, time will take care of it, but oh, the wait.

Tami said...

This is a lovely post. I am going to link to from my blog tomorrow.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for pointing out the conjunction of the weddings w/Loving Day--that is a nice confluence! And I agree--the wait is frustrating. As a queer ally, I think what's important, for me, is to be very vocal about my support for same-sex marriage and my willingness to be vocal and verbal about this support in whatever forums I can--and the link with inter-racial unions is also key.

Thanks for the link love! I appreciate it!